Yelling Over the Wind
Strapping Switches Seats With his Kidnapper
I am divided. In my heart lies the burden of my comatose father who continues to breathe beyond all expectation. In my loins there pulses an aching desire brought forth by the woman who tried to steal my father. Her eyebrows arch, her hands curve, her curves undulate, her lips pout, her clothes remind me of youthful days at the park. She oozes indignance. She scrapes forward in immutable need to complete her journey. She is confused, angry, murderous. She will change.
I was driving the pilfered pickup. She sat on the other side of the cab, feet on the dashboard. Father was slumped between us. The shattered windshield afforded a fragmented view of the road and directed a blast of cold air in my face. To counter the wind, the heater was on maximum power. The truck had no muffler. My ears rattled.
“He's in a coma ?” She clapped her hands next to the ear of my father. She blew in his nose. She lifted his left eyelid and stared into the vacuum.
A cube of glass dislodged itself from the windshield and bounced to the floor. I turned to my father's kidnapper and yelled, “Actually, he's dying.”
She touched her throat. “Whoa.”
“Why did you steal my father?”
“He did me wrong”1
“Are you mad?” I shouted. I moved my foot to the brake and pointed the truck toward the ditch. “How could a comatose old man do anyone wrong?!?”
“He wasn't comatose when he did it.”
I accelerated and righted our course. “Oh. It is possible that--during the period of his life when he wasn't comatose--my father may have said or done something to offend you. But I doubt he could have done anything to warrant your behaviour of the previous two days.”
She put her hand to her ear, “What?”
“What did he do?”
“WHAT DID HE DO?”
“It's a long story.”
I slammed on the brakes and pulled the truck over to the side of the road. I got out and ran around to open the passenger door.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“You and Dad need to switch places. I can't hear. You sit in the middle. We'll put Father next to the door.”
The woman stepped out of the truck and, together, we pushed Father over. I lifted the necklace mirror to his lips. He fogged it up instantly. I shut the door and we walked around to the driver's side. The woman got in and slid to the middle of the bench seat. I took the driver's spot and we headed back down the road.
Her legs straddled the gear shift. I was able to avoid touching her all the way up to fourth gear. Then my hand brushed her leg. She acted like she didn't notice.
When we had attained cruising speed, she said, “I'm Nancy Stouffer.”
I did not want to remove my hand from the gear shift. I brought it to steering wheel.
She turned to me. “Who are you?”
“I'm the son of the man you tried to kidnap.”
“You got a name?”
“My name is Elk Undercarriage.”
“I know you! You're the son of Strapping Danforth!”
“You're very perceptive.”
“I read that article about you. The one where you tricked Strapping into going to Mexico for a cocaine deal.” 2
“That's not exactly how it happened.”
“Yeah, and you tried to get Strapping to start drinking again. Then the drug deal went bad and you got your ass kicked. Strapping was lucky to get out of that one alive.”
“Very lucky indeed.”
“Yeah, and in the end, it turned out that you weren't really his son!”
“Much of that story was fabricated.”
“Yes,” I forced out a chuckle, “Father was known to stretch the truth on occasion if it would make for a better yarn.”
“So you didn't go to Mexico with Strapping?”
“That part was true.”
“But there was no drug deal?”
“Oh, there was a drug deal.”
“But you're really his son, right?”
I tapped the wheel for a few moments. “There are times in life when we wonder who we are. Am I the man I think I am or am I the man everyone else thinks I am? Have I realized my dreams? Would my father be proud of me?” I turned to Nancy , “As much as we'd like answers to these questions, we don't always get them.”
She said nothing for several moments. Then, “Your father promised not to use my name.”
“My father made a lot of promises.”
“I told him, ‘I'll talk to you only on the condition that you don't use my name.' He said, ‘Don't worry, Sugar. Scout's honor.'
“I was just a sound engineer at a two-bit rock club. He told me he was a writer for the Rocky Mountain News , doing a series about women in the music business. Next thing you know, I'm telling him everything. I told him how I get treated by some of the cocky male musicians and how good it feels to cut them down to size by giving them bad sound. I also talked about how much I love music and how gratifying the job could be when everything went right. But when I read the article it was just the bad things I said, especially that part about how I think sound engineers should get a tip at the end of the night. And then he used my real name.”
She traced a circle in the window, “I supposed it wouldnta made much difference. I'm probably the only woman soundman in the whole state. People woulda figured it out real quick.
“So, anyway, I got fired and then some guy started calling me, leaving messages. He was a sicko. Asking me to do sexual things and grunting. He kept asking, ‘How's that sound, soundman?'
“Shit, I went crazy. I kept trying to find the bastard but the phone company wouldn't help. I ended up flagging for the highway department. Worked eighty-hour weeks just to stay away from the phone. One night the guy right next to me got clipped by a son of a bitch on a crotch rocket. Flipped Tony—that's his name—over like a cat out of a cannon. He landed right in front of the steam roller. They couldn't get it stopped it time. You don't want to know what he looked like. He looked like a pancake.”
“What happened to the guy on the motorcycle?”
“Fuck him. He broke his arm. Fell off his bike. I ran over to him and kicked him in the balls ten times. I ended up losing that job too. I was so pissed it made me sick. I figured the only way to stop this string of bad luck was to find the man who started it.”
“And I intended to stop the bad luck.”
“Well, you found him. How's your luck?”
She hugged herself. “Where are we going?”
“ Mexico .”
“He wants me to have his body stuffed and mounted but evidently there's a law against that in the United States .”
“There's certainly a law against stuffing and mounting people who aren't dead.”
“He'll die soon.”
“You don't seem too sad about that.”
“I'm devastated. But I made a promise and I intend to keep it.”
“What if you can't find a human taxidermist in Mexico ?”
“I'll throw his body to the sharks.”
I shifted gears. “Yes?”
“Can I join you?”
“You're here already.”
Flagstaff , Arizona is divided by train tracks. To the east is the pretty part, with ice cream shops and alternative rock clubs. On the west are churches and gumpaper shacks. It seems like a nice town. I can't know for certain because we drove through without stopping.
--Elk Undercarriage, August 2005
1"Shut Up and Tip Me : A Sound Engineer Fights Back"
2"The Son Also Writhes : In Guadalajara with Los Ponchos de la Pueblo, Deceit, and Flirtations with the Past"